Everybody experiences grief differently so knowing how to respond to other people's grief can be difficult, especially if you're also dealing with your own. Practical issues around bereavement mean that you can't always give people as much space as you might like to. How can you figure out the best course of action? How can you provide support without exhausting your own resources?
As well as responding differently to grief, people feel it to different degrees, and not always in the ways you'd expect. Sometimes people quite close to a deceased person are not severely affected - they may, for instance have had more time to adjust to a death that was expected. Others who are not that close may feel a deep loss. It can be damaging to expect grief off people and make them feel bad if they're coping, but it's equally important to look out for unexpected grief.
If you are the person closest to the deceased, accepting that other people may be grieving as much as you are can be hard. It can feel like an intrusion into your private space. These feelings are natural and nothing to be ashamed of, but try to remember that those people can't control their feelings either. It will be easier all round if you can support each other.
Some people who are grieving want to pour out their distress to anyone who will listen whereas others try to avoid the subject completely. At each extreme it can be difficult to make sure they're saying what they really need to say. Lots of talking can itself be a form of obfuscation.
Pushing people who are resistant to talking about grief can be risky, but so can leaving them alone. Generally the best course of action is to let them know you're there for them and then give them space, but gently remind them every now and again that you are concerned. Grief can lead to depression and low self esteem so there's a risk that such people will otherwise end up feeling they have no-one to turn to.
Most people find it easier to face their own grief when not overwhelmed by yours, so try not to get too emotional in conversations of this sort. If you can approach the subject in a matter of fact way it will usually make it easier for them and less exhausting for you.
In any situation where you have strong feelings it can be confusing to have to deal with people who express theirs in a different way. You may be tempted to think they're insincere, that they're showing off their grief or that they're being aloof. If you want to communicate effectively and avoid conflict, it's important not to project your own feelings and perspectives onto them.
As you are probably aware, there are several stages of grief. People pass through these at different rates. What's more, our experiences of grief can be complicated by losses we have experienced in the past, coincidental depression or anxiety, and other major events that may be happening in our lives.
Rather than being a barrier to understanding, these differences mean that we have different strengths, so we are more able to support each other through our particular difficulties.
When Grief is Hidden
Some people don't show their grief at all. Coping with other people's apparent lack of feelings when you're hurting intensely can be very difficult, even if they are trying to be helpful to you. It may also leave you worried that they are secretly hurting but unable to communicate it and therefore unable to get any support.
Some people hide their grief even from themselves, so suggesting that you know how they really feel can be counter-productive. It can be more useful to approach the situation hypothetically. If you say that if they were feeling bad you would always be ready to help them, you can give them what they need to cope or to seek help should they decide it's right for them to do so.
Coping with other people's grief - even if you're not supporting them directly - can be an exhausting and frustrating experience. It's especially tough when you too are missing somebody, so it's important that you create space and support structures for yourself. Remember that you'll be less help to people in the long term if you damage yourself by taking on too much in the short term.
When looking out for others it's important to remember that you matter too. Try to show yourself the same kindness. You deserve it.
Hi, my fiancé lost her mother when she was 16, she is now 30 and we are due to get married in a few months time.
She is finding the thought of the wedding really difficult because she knows that her mum will not be there to help get her ready, tell her how proud she is and all the other small things. Overall this has brought up a lot of emotions that have bee surprised for a long time. I would like to know how I can best support her not only now but also once we are married.
JC - 24-Jan-17 @ 9:59 PM
My Nan recently passed away after battling dementia for many years. We knew it was coming we urged her to let go in the final days to be with our grandad again who died 4 years ago. I've never really gotten over my grandads death but I thought i would be different with my Nan. Im happy they together again but I'm finding myself wanting to be alone I don't want to be around people asking me if I'm ok do I want a hug and being around people who are sad but at the same time it's hurting so much I don't know what to do how to be I just feel so tired all the time I miss them both so much.
Vikstar81 - 24-Mar-16 @ 11:21 AM
Ty - Your Question:
My 19 year old son passed away two months ago. My nephew who is also his best friend decided to race across a pond.my sin drowned. My nephew tried to save him. My youngest son was there.who was very very close to him. I am not only trying to deal with my grief.but I have so much pain and hurt for my other son n nephew. My nephew can't even look at me. I don't know how to help him past his grief while also dealing with my own. I have already told him I don't blame him.that I love him and that I am here for him.but he hasn't dealt with it at all.any suggestions?
It sounds as though counselling sessions would really help him. You may want to consider going as a family which might help with your nephew's guilt issues. The CRUSE bereavement charity will have contact details.
FacingBereavement - 1-Sep-15 @ 2:27 PM
My 19 year old son passed away two months ago. My nephew who is also his best friend decided to race across a pond.. .my sin drowned... My nephew tried to save him. My youngest son was there...who was very very close to him. I am not only trying to deal with my grief...but I have so much pain and hurt for my other son n nephew. My nephew can't even look at me. I don't know how to help him past his grief while also dealing with my own. I have already told him I don't blame him....that I love him and that I am here for him....but he hasn't dealt with it at all....any suggestions?
Ty - 1-Sep-15 @ 11:35 AM
hello .. i dont know if this will help in anyway but you will have to speak to him about it or that regret of what could have been will break everything apart ..
i guess i am in kind of a similar situation .. i had a friends with benefits arrangement with this guy .. unfortunatly i fell for him and he must have because very recently we have decided to be girlfriend /boyfriend then his mother died 3 days ago .. i met her once.i did not know he wanted me to become his girlfriend at the time that i met her .. now it is too late.. i have tried to speak to him but i feel he is moving away from me . and this is killing me inside. i have known him over a year and he told me do not feel sorry or worried for me because i have my family around me and i feel he doesnt want me anymore.. that he would rather speak to his friends and family other than me.. and i care so much for him .. i dont know what to do ..
i guess that makes me sound so selfish .. but i am lost ..
goldy - 29-Oct-14 @ 7:26 PM
Hi. my boyfriend recently went home to attend his brother's wedding, but the day after the wedding his dad died so sudden and I terribly feel devastated as well. Even if I haven't met his dad in person I cry at night because I know he was a very good man based on what I've observed on how he would constantly call or message my boyfriend. In general I can see he was a very sweet and caring dad to him and they had a good relationship. But I cant help but feel sad especially because I cant physically be there for their family cause I'm still a student and have no source of income and I have no means of money to buy for a plane ticket. As much as I want to be there but I have no money :( And now I feel so guilty that his dad is gone and that I haven't met him. I should have introduce myself when I had the chance or maybe talked to him over the phone. Its just because I had this constant battle in my mind that if my boyfriend wants me to meet his family he would initiate to introduce me. And now I regret for thinking that way. Much more because before when my boyfriend went home we had this talk that he wanted me to go with him. And yet I dismiss his request because I thought he wasn't serious. And now all of that happened. Its just so sad. I know this is not about me but I cant help but regret. Plus the fact that I cant be on his dads funeral is driving me insane. Please I dunno what to do. How can I help my grieving boyfriend when I'm far away?
xtalahh - 25-Sep-14 @ 1:05 PM
Hi my mother died in Feb this year i come from a large family 4 sisters 4 brothers i have closed myself off from them since she died she was the glue that held us all together she was the one person who loved me with all my faults and i miss her so much. My dad died someyears ago and we just got on with it for mams sake so now both are gone i feel Abandoned i feel like a lost child who has lost her daddy & mammy even though i am a grown woman. I am married with 3 children all grown up the youngest is 18 so i at times have an empty house when i do i move out of my bedroom away from my husband i know i am closing myself off from him i cannot bear to look at him he walks into a room i walk out. I cry and curl up when i am on my own I know this is not good but its like i might as well get rid of my marraige of 28 years now because i am going through so much pain why not add in some more. I am lost and i dont know how to move on i go to the grave of my parents then my husband goes to visit his living parents and i resent this i feel i am really going crazy.
Josie - 4-Jul-13 @ 1:57 PM
My boyfriends dad has just passed away unexpectedly. I am trying to do everything I can to help him. If he needs to visit other family members I drive him there and stay for the visits, if he needs to talk I listen. If he needs me I get to him pronto. I am helping on the day of the funeral. But I can't lie, I am struggling. Not because I don't want to help him, because I do. The shock has taken me by surprise, as I got on well with his Dad, and seeing so much sadness and anger, whilst having to stay nutural, is hard. I sincerely hope I do not come over as bad in this, as my thoughts are mainly on my man and his family. But is there anyone who I could go to for advice, as the last thing I want is for him to notice my struggle. TIA